Title: Every Now and Then
Word Count: 13,935
Summary: When Spike goes missing Buffy is forced to remember things she'd rather have left forgotten.
Author's Notes: This takes place quite a way in the future, in the same universe as another fic I wrote, What a Way to Make a Living (there may be a title-theme of early 80s cheese...). But to understand this fic, all you should need to know is that Buffy works in a school by day while Spike and Illyria fight crime, buddy-cop style, by night. There's again a bit of comics influence, but really not very much. Insane levels of thanks to bogwitch for doing me a beta - it should now be pretty unrecognisable from when she first saw it. :P Yet more thanks for enigmaticblues, because I swear seasonal_spuffy brings out the best in me.
Warnings: None (I would say)
Every Now and Then.
Buffy was in a bad mood. She was trying to proof-read what had to be the fifth draft of the school’s new anti-bullying policy, but her computer wasn’t co-operating. Worse than that, Spike hadn’t come home that morning, which always made her grouchy. It didn’t happen that often, but he always seemed to end up hiding in the sewers, and that meant sewer-smell. Not to mention getting his coat dry-cleaned.
One of her office’s doors opened. “Just gotta run something off at the photocopier!”
Buffy muttered something she hoped sounded amenable, not bothering to look up. Any time there weren’t any students around Julie seemed to think Buffy’s office was a thoroughfare. It was the school’s fault really, since the layout meant that Julie and Ted from next door had to go down one flight of stairs, along a corridor and then up some more stairs to get to reprographics, which was only about twenty feet away from them – unless they went through Buffy’s office. The thing was... Ted seemed to live with it.
She couldn’t hate Julie, not if she wanted to work with her, but Buffy had long ago decided she could hate the other woman’s shoes. With the pretence of picking up a biro Buffy leant around her monitor and tracked them as they crossed the floor. They were peep-toe courts today, pale green and really, really ugly – if only because they were clearly knock-offs of the pair Buffy had bought last week.
When they reached the other doorway they stopped, confronted by a pair of fuck-off blue DMs. Julie clearly didn’t know what to do and Buffy almost applauded. Whichever one of the goth clique it was, even if it was K-Lee or Veronica James, she was going to have to go easy on them. They’d brightened up her day.
She looked up, smiling. Immediately, however, her face froze. A lump grew in her throat. All because it wasn’t one of the sophomores; it was Illyria.
Something was very, very wrong.
The biro Buffy was holding burst in her hand, which was the first clue she had that she was clenching her fists. She tried to relax them, but all she could think about was the fact that Blue had never visited her in school. She stayed with Spike when he was stuck somewhere, always, so this didn’t make any sense.
“What is it?” Buffy finally asked, softer than she meant to.
“Spike has been taken.” Illyria replied, sounding shocked herself. “I do not know where – a spell was cast on us that made me blind. When I regained my sight it became clear that I had been taken far from our original location.”
“And Spike wasn’t there?”
“OK,” she said, glancing at the clock. They could work with this. Spike wasn’t dust, which meant that he was more than rescuable. “OK.” She was going to stop saying ‘OK’ any time now. “We need a plan.” Illyria’s eyes were as wide and all-seeing as ever, like the too-blue contacts the school had banned three months ago, but they were filled with fear – and trust. Buffy wished she knew what to do with it. “I can’t go until four-thirty.” The students knew she was available till then, and she’d thought David Zhao was going to come today. Spike would kill her if she jeopardised students for him. “But after that we can get out of here.”
“Going somewhere, Buffy?”
Julie was back from the photocopier, squeezing past Illyria with a stack of paper in her hand. Buffy swallowed, trying to work out what to say. “It’s my husband,” she finally came up with. She couldn’t say ‘kidnapped’ – that was too weird, too Slayer-y. There should be police there, not Blue. She’d have to be filling in statements and stuff. “He’s in the hospital.”
“Oh dear,” Julie tutted, shaking her head. Buffy assumed she was supposed to be expressing sympathy. “Did he get in a fight?”
“No.” Buffy was suddenly very glad that it was Julie’s coat Spike had ruined at the Principal’s party. “He was attacked. While he was out detectiving. Helping people.”
“I’m very sorry to hear it,” Julie replied, insincerely. She was clearly revelling in Buffy’s inadequacy. “Of course you should go. I’ll let you and...”
Blue was glaring. Buffy intervened, “This is Illyria, Spike’s partner.” There was silence, as usual, and she filled it like she always did, “She’s from Europe. You know, Croatia.”
“Nice to meet you.” Julie smiled, just a little. Satisfied with something. “Say, what’s your major, sweetie? I have a son your age, you might –”
“Illyria’s not in college.” Buffy was teetering between panic and rage now, which really wasn’t helping the situation. The clock had barely moved, and she was worryingly close to saying to hell with the sekrit part of her sooper-strength and smacking Julie’s head on the wired glass. And she’d thought age had mellowed her.
“Really? Well, you can’t have graduated all that long ago...”
“Your words mean nothing to me.”
There wasn’t much Buffy could add to that.
Julie stayed for a moment longer, flustering and growing red around the frilly neck of her Wal-Mart blouse, before she finally left them for her own office. Buffy shut the door behind her.
“OK.” Stupid OKs. “Our plan.” The clock was still telling her she had eternity to wait. “We’ve got to think about who –”
There was a knock on her door. It was David, scruffy, baseball-capped David who was halfway out the door before he’d even stepped through it. Of course it would be today.
“Hi David!” She smiled, forcing the commands along her nerves and waving a hand. “Come in.”
She gave Illyria two more seconds, nothing more, muttering under her breath and trying to invoke the days when she hadn’t been just the wife, but the best fighter in their gang. “I’ll meet you at the car. I want a list of all the people you’d talk to if this was just another case, and then I want a list of all the people you’ve pissed off in the last month. Then we’re going. We aren’t waiting a second longer than we have to.”
Illyria left and Buffy hoped it was with a nod. She didn’t have the time to check.
It had been four fifty-two when they’d finally left the school. She hadn’t looked at the clock when she’d been with David, hadn’t let herself think about it, just talked about their strategy, who’d they’d have to tell and what he’d have to do to get things sorted.
Now though, she felt every second pass through her, hitting her skin with the wind that blew over Illyria’s car. The sun seemed to set so quickly, slipping away from them as one source after another had nothing to tell them, until with an awful finality it was dark. They drove on, ready to go it alone.
Her cell was at her ear, but Lorne was being slow to pick up. It made her edgy.
The ringing finally clicked off. “What’s our status, Lorne?”
He sighed, ragged and static. “No different than twenty minutes ago. I’m sorry, sweetpea.”
She nodded, refusing to accept sympathy for feelings she was forcing back. “OK. Sorry to keep breaking up your night.”
“Don’t you even think about it – you think I can work on a night like this? Dagretha’s on reception, Rigo’s in the bar. Just let me know if there’s anything more I can do.”
“Will do, Lorne.” She hung up. There was too much emotion inside her, too much gratitude. If she wasn’t careful, she would crumble, and then they would be nowhere.
Streetlamps and neon bar signs blurred as they drove past them, far too bright for her eyes. There were a couple of cars, but not too many people around, which was good, because Blue wasn’t stopping for any of them; she was driving forty, maybe fifty miles an hour, her right hand resting a little worryingly on the handbrake.
With no more warning than that they turned, violently, pulling into an alley and slamming to a stop in front of wire fence.
“This is where we were,” Blue said without ceremony.
Swallowing her stomach back down, Buffy put one hand on the door and leapt out of the car, thanking whatever wardrobe-fairy had made her decide to put on trousers that morning.
Her eyes were still adjusting to the diffused light from the headlamps, so she headed to the pile of rubbish near their beam first. Hands on her hips she kicked through the cardboard and the newspaper until all the items were scattered in front of her, condoms and syringes and cigarette ends, but nothing that looked like a clue. The bottom of the fence continued to another pile of trash, so she followed it, searching for anything...
“Buffy, call Rupert Giles.”
She looked up. Giles? Giles didn’t have to know about this. He took everything too hard these days.
“Slayer,” Blue addressed her again.
Buffy’s eyes finally caught up with the lighting conditions, and she saw what had caught Illyria’s attention. There was a sort of sigil on the wall, daubed in something dark and slick. Oil-based, maybe? It looked like blood, but blood would never still be so wet and shining.
She turned around and looked to the other wall, and there it was, a twin. One plus two made a matched pair of dark and creepy.
“Why didn’t you notice this before?” If there was accusation in her voice she didn’t mean to put it there.
“This was not where I awoke.”
Buffy slipped her phone back out of her pocket, muttering “unlock” and “Giles’ home” as she tucked it behind her ear. “Pull the car back – he’ll need a photo, with the light.”
Illyria moved to do just that, and Giles, prompt as ever, picked up on the second ring. “Good evening, Buffy, I –”
“Giles.” Something shook through her and she wished she had something to break. “Spike’s been kidnapped.”
“I know, dear. How can I help?”
“He –” Her momentum came to a halt. “You know?”
“Illyria called me on her way to meet you. She was quite distraught. Well, that is to say in relation to her usual demeanour. I must confess, I –”
“You’re up to speed.” And soon she would be too. “Cool.” There wasn’t time to chat. “We went back to the alley, you know, where they were, and there’re these spell-symbols on the walls. We need to know what they mean. I’m gonna mess you a picture, OK? Maybe if you can get hold of Willow, she could – she might not mind helping, I dunno, I –”
“Buffy, calm down.”
She blamed him. She did, because suddenly all she could think about was the way Spike was still a little stiff from the Coljett venom and the way he was the only vampire-with-a-soul in the whole world, and if some witch or warlock needed one they’d have made damn sure they could get him. They had a whole day on her and Blue and that was the time it had taken to defeat the First Evil. You could change the world in a day if you wanted to and it would only take a second, a single second, to irrevocably destroy hers.
She didn’t know what she was doing, not anymore.
She must have sobbed, because she felt herself shake and Giles continued, “Buffy, I won’t have this. Spike is a grown – vampire, and you know as well as I do that this is no worse than the scrapes you and the others would get yourselves into when you were sixteen. With rather alarming frequency, I might add.”
She shook her head, closing her eyes against tears. It was different. They’d been so easy to take when they were young – they’d fallen into nets so loose that it had been easy to shrug them off. And that had been in Sunnydale too, where, as Spike said, something must have been in the water. Certainly nothing had got to him since that unholy trinity of the Initiative, Glory and the First. Until now.
She squeezed the bridge of her nose. “I don’t know what to do, Giles.”
“Don’t be silly, of course you do. You’re going to put the phone down, snap a few photos of this symbol, send them to me and undoubtedly head off with Illyria to that awful diner with the new information.” He sighed. “Now, come on. Buck up. There’s evil to foil, you know.”
“Yes.” She could do this. “OK.” It had been decades, but she could do this. “See you, Giles.”
“Good luck, Buffy.”
She let Giles end the call, just as she let herself rest in darkness for a moment longer, shivering before opening her eyes.
Illyria stood in front of her, something dark and cumbersome in her arms. Without a word she shook it out and swirled it around Buffy’s back, looping an arm over her head to rest her hands at her shoulders.
The thing was a coat, she realised, one of Spike’s spares he kept in the car, in case he got a hole in one and still needed to look menacing. She pulled the lapels across her, taking it from Illyria. It was an uncommon gesture of affection and Buffy could feel the tears prick her harder.
“Oh, Blue, what are we going to do?”
“The Slayer will return for one last battle and crush her enemies beneath her feet.”
She bit her lip, shaking her head into the cool collar of the jacket. “I don’t know how to be the Slayer, Blue, not anymore. I’m too scared of what I can become.”
“You found yourself previously and so you shall again. We will aid you.”
Buffy met her eyes. “I trust you, Blue.” She breathed, letting the air shudder through her, cooling every fear and worry into purpose. “We need to take those pictures.”
They returned to her and Spike’s house at three o’clock in the morning. At least, that was what her watch said. Buffy was pretty sure it was lying, because there was no way she’d fall asleep in Illyria’s car so early.
“Why are we back here?” she asked groggily, peering over the car’s door at her sinfully boring flowerbeds. Spike had wanted Venus fly traps, like Dawn had. She should have said yes.
“You must sleep.” Buffy shut her eyes against the voice. “I shall continue looking until morning, then aid Rupert Giles with his research.”
“I should come,” she complained. “I’m still a Slayer. I can deal with this.”
The thing was, she wasn’t sure she could. Her eyelids felt too heavy for her to reopen them and what she’d said earlier still stood; the Slayer had long been something foreign to her. Ever since she’d met with Spike again after Sunnydale and things had gone from bad to worse. She could remember the feeling, fight-or-flight a permanent state of mind, the night impenetrable...
The car door opened and she fell to the side, bursting out of sleep. “Rest,” Illyria commanded, pulling her from the car and up the driveway.
Buffy wasn’t sure that ‘rest’ was the right word for what she was about to do. Sure enough, after she’d staggered through her house and crawled into bed, her sleep was utterly restless. More than that it was full of dreams.
Buffy’s clothes were still creased from the plane journey. She wasn’t sure why she was thinking that, but she was, and with the hand that wasn’t holding the phone she tried to flatten them out.
“I’m back,” Spike told her down the phone line. She clutched the handset tighter, creases forgotten.
“Hey.” Why couldn’t she think of anything cool to say? “So, are you sure I’m not running you up a massive trans-dimensional bill or something?”
Spike chuckled, and she was pretty sure it would never stop warming her heart. “I told you, love: magic phone – no bills.”
“I really need to get myself one of those.”
“OK, I think we’re set up here,” Willow said, looking up. Buffy jumped slightly, nearly tripping over the curb and onto the road. Luckily this was as dark and empty as any of LA’s scarier streets, and no one was watching. Willow looked like she wanted to laugh though.
“Well,” Spike replied. “You can have this one once we’re done with it.” Ooh, was Spike offering to give her a present? Did that mean there might still be something between them? She’d had a weird feeling inside of her ever since the shock of hearing his voice had worn off. Everything since Sunnydale had been such a dead end, and if they could just get LA back the way it was supposed to be...
“Buffy!” Willow again. “We can start the spell now.”
“OK, OK.” Buffy stepped off the sidewalk, carefully this time, walked by Willow and the big pink crystal, then took her place sitting opposite. She was trying to ignore the gum that had to be getting on her new jeans. Things couldn’t be moved. She’d asked. “OK, Spike, let’s go over this again. Are you in position? We’re in front of the ‘Toasted’ tag, and the crystal’s aligned with the second T, on a crack in the sidewalk four rulers away from the wall.”
“Got it. Fist-sized rose quartz?”
“Fist-sized rose quartz.” It was pretty. “We’re sitting either side of the tag, so one of you needs to be in front of it, the other one on the curb or in the street.”
“Blue ain’t looking impressed, but we’re there.” She’d been wondering who this Blue was. She knew she was Spike’s partner in the spell, but when he’d said he was in LA she’d assumed he’d been working with Angel. Not some... girl.
Not that that mattered right now. “Right. I’m gonna put my phone on the side of the crystal nearest the tag, speaker to mouthpiece going in the direction of the writing.”
“And I’ll do the opposite. Then we all get trancing and meet up on the astral plane, so Will can make with the mojo. And we end up as nice, separate people; not at all like mutants from Planet X.”
She grinned, barely able to imagine that he was coming back to her. “That’s the gist of it, yeah.”
“See you on the other side then, Slayer.”
Still smiling, she placed the phone where she’d said she would. Willow looked pleased for her, even if there was some relief there. Hours of one-sided conversation probably weren’t all that entertaining. That would all change soon, though. There wouldn’t be a need for any more phones, because Spike would be with them. He and this Blue person.
With a deep breath she closed her eyes and began to slip away. It didn’t take long. Willow took her hand, led them gently out of their bodies and then they were travelling up a fire escape into the night.
They climbed until the stairs stopped, then kept on climbing through the air, until they could see all of LA, all of California, all of the world spinning away beneath them. They kept climbing until they seemed to be back where they started, sitting in a street; only everything was a sort of murky grey-brown colour, and all the shapes were indistinct. The curb merged into the road, and the wall merged into them, and the pavement felt like soil beneath her. The crystal still sat between them though, pink and sparkling, casting some sort of light on to the two murky phones that now surrounded it.
“Where are we?” she asked, though she didn’t hear any sound come from her mouth.
“This is the LA between dimensions,” she knew Willow replied. She also didn’t seem to be making any sound, just looked serene and Willow-y, russet and green with features Buffy could catch if she looked out of the corner of her eye. “A sort of blueprint of everything.”
Then Spike and someone blue and female seemed to be there too, completing four points of a cross. “Fancy seeing you here.” She couldn’t pin down Spike’s voice, or work out the exact intonation, but she knew it was there.
“Fancy,” she replied.
“OK, just give me a sec, guys.”
They fell silent, and Willow seemed to move, drifting vaguely towards the centre of them. The crystal between them shone more brightly, pulling the phones into being. The world around them flickered in and out of solidity, feeling more like concrete and brick. It took what had to be seconds.
“There,” Willow said. “Now –”
She was cut off by a violent, merciless wind that seemed to rise from beneath them, drumming up Buffy’s nose and sending her light headed. She could barely keep her eyes open, but she saw the crystal rise between them, spinning on itself in the wind.
“Will!” she cried, trying to make herself heard over the roaring. “What’s –”
There was a crack, and the crystal shattered, blowing outwards into their faces, cutting Buffy along her nose and cheeks. They all cried out as one, and Buffy knew something was going terribly, terribly wrong.
“It is the Wolf, Ram and Hart,” the blue girl said, her voice low like thunder.
“Will, you said!” Buffy could feel herself despairing. It was though the shards of crystal were ripping through her guts now, slicing her up inside her skin. “You said it was like a siege! You said we only needed a tiny portion of their power to put things how they should be! You said it wasn’t sustainable, keeping worlds apart!”
“It isn’t!” Willow yelled back, barely audible. “This isn’t about LA anymore, this is –” She cried out in pain.
“This is about us,” she carried on. “We need – we need to get back to our bodies, now.”
“Agreed,” Blue uttered.
Buffy tried to find her way back. She did. She could feel Willow pulling her along, and they soon left murky LA for black space again, but Willow was going too fast.
Spike and Blue were also ahead of her, and she tried to call out for them, feeling like she was swimming through treacle. No sound escaped, but in a moment it felt like Spike was tugging her too, edging her forwards that little bit faster.
In the flick of a second Willow disappeared out of sight, and what had been her hand let go of Buffy’s. All three of them slowed down, and something that felt like anger came from Spike’s friend. Buffy cursed herself. She knew that she should never have been part of the spell. Someone more experienced should have gone with Willow, but that would have meant handing the phone, and Spike, over to someone else, which she really hadn’t wanted to do.
She thought she could see the world, coming up in front of Spike and Blue, but then it was though she were blind, feeling her way through nothing. She kept on, imagining the sense of wind in her ears, warm blood rushing through her system and trying to make it happen. But she couldn’t make her heart beat any faster than a dying pulse of a waltz, no matter how she pushed and pushed...
And then she was there, in the dark but with a beating heart and breath, Spike on her left and another presence on her right.
She opened her eyes, but there was nothing to see. It was too dark. She wasn’t sitting on sidewalk anymore, but dust, compacted dirt or something that really didn’t belong in a city anyway.
A hiss, and something heavy landed in Willow’s empty spot. Instinctively she rolled to standing, just as she heard the sound of a dagger being pulled from Spike’s boot. Two snarls and then a dying moan as steel broke flesh. She had no idea where they were.
“We need to get out of the open,” Spike murmured.
“We’re in the open?” she asked stupidly, reaching out a hand to find his tensed forearm. It relaxed, just a fraction under her touch, and she found herself glowing.
“Come,” the other spoke. “There is a river. It will lead us to vegetation.”
She didn’t let go of Spike’s arm until they were attacked again, half a minute later. He tossed her the dagger and she cursed, dropping back on senses long unused to finding the enemy in the dark. She thrust her hands in its face, refusing to flinch as warm, moist breath covered her hand. A bit more scrambling and she managed to force her dagger through the tough crocodile hide of the demon’s neck, wrenching it free as it fell away from her.
Then they were running. The ground was hard beneath her feet and the night was endless. The black seemed to push on her shoulders, push into her the more she ran until it was eating away at her. Her heart fluttered in her chest, beating out eternity. Slowly, ever so slowly, it seemed to sound more deeply. Time was passing, but she was still running.
She knew Illyria’s name now. Her and Spike’s presence became clearer, more apparent in her mind until Buffy was sure she knew their every movement, their every breath, working beside her own.
Every sound in the night meant something to her. Deep beneath her feet she could feel the earth’s heart beating in time to her own. She felt older, but somehow ageless. Her name was long gone from her mind. She could run forever.
And then, unexpectedly, she tripped. She hadn’t tripped in years. With a fluid roll she settled into a crouch, trying to process what had happened. The earth was muffled now, covered by something harsh on the soles of her feet, and she struggled to hear it.
Her companions were standing behind her. They weren’t running any longer, and they even walked as they came to her side. She hissed at them for not following her lead, but they did not reply, calling out into the night instead.
“Red? Giles? You round that corner?”
“This is your realm, the one we left. I remember it well.”
“Oi! Anyone out there?”
Figures of warmth appeared in the night, dispersing the air: one male, one female who crackled with magic.
“Buffy!” the female cried, and the pair of them charged.
She attacked the weaker, for her resistance to magic was not as strong as her companions. There were cries, and then she was suspended in air, plucked from the ground like fruit and bereft of the earth.
“Let her down, Red. Now!”
“What’s happened to her?”
“Spike. Dear God, I didn’t think it was possible.”
“I’ll keep her under control – let her down! Christ, don’t piss her off like this.”
“Witch, you shall release her.”
“Hey, I don’t answer to gods who steal friends’ bodies, OK?”
“Let her down, Willow.”
“Let her bloody down!”
“OK, OK! Geez...”
She fell, landing once again in a crouch. Spike, however, crouched before her, his hands firm on her upper arms. “These aren’t enemies, all right, love? Believe it or not, we’ve actually made it home.”
His words made no sense to her, though she understood that attack was no longer wise. They would have to wait until the advantage was theirs once more, when the witch was pre-occupied.
“We’ve prepared her rooms; they should be familiar to her. Dawn reminded us that the changes in the house were some of the first things she noticed last time she – returned.”
Spike turned away from her, looking up and to the side. “That’s great, Watcher. Wrap her in a fluffy blanket, try to make things the way they were.” His hands tightened, but she felt no danger. “The girl you found last time fell from heaven – we’ve just been raised from hell; you won’t be getting a wallflower you can treat how you like this time round.”
“Hell? No, no, it can’t have been – we looked the world up. It’s on the same plane as this one, just far away, I mean...”
He turned further, until she could see the bones behind his ear. Were she an enemy he would have made a grave mistake. “Yeah? Why don’t you try spending however many years it was without civilisation, enemies on your trail coming at you all hours of the day? See whether you think it’s hell or not.”
“Do tell me then, Spike. Why were you not so affected? I find this all –”
“Been around a long time, haven’t I? Lot longer than the Slayer here. So’s my demon.” His eyes fell back on her and a thumb smoothed the curve of her right shoulder. “Not so easy to shuck the habits of this world. Even to survive.”
Silence ran like wind, but the tension of battle thrummed.
“This is all my fault, isn’t it? I shouldn’t have...”
“Perhaps it would be best to remove all reminders of that place, immerse her in the things she knew. Undoubtedly she would prefer some clean clothes.”
“You got space for me and Lil in that happy little Wendy house?” A final, angry squeeze to her shoulders and then he stood, the tails of his coat gifting her with the scent of the earth she knew. “Bloody hell, you never think of just giving her some time, do you? Rip her out of one place, shove her in another. Flick the switch and she’ll be back to what you knew, pat yourselves on the back and it’s a job well done.”
“I can’t believe we’ve been back two minutes... She barely coped with where we landed. But you’re thinking, what? Now she’s adapted one way, doing the opposite won’t be nearly as hard? Course it won’t. Specially without so much as a helping hand or a familiar face.” He raised an arm and ran his hand through his hair. “Have a bleeding heart, would you!”
An argument continued, but Illyria distracted her, blocking her vision as she too crouched. “You must rise, Slayer. Tell these humans your desires.”
She rose. The voices stopped and the howl of the wind around stone rushed into her ears. She would speak. She would tell them.
All that escaped her throat was a raucous scream.